In the course of their first 20 years, marketing classes sought to teach students that their budding field was an economic institution and a practice in distribution. Which means at its base, the field of marketing was founded on the principle of economic efficiency; or in more simple terms, on finding an answer to the following question: how can we reach the greatest number of people while spending the least amount of money?
2. Formalizing the Field (1920-1950)
These halcyon days were marked by key advances for the marketing field as an academic institution. Such advances included the founding of scholarly journals dedicated to furthering the fields of retail and marketing, like Journal of Retailing (1925) and Journal of Marketing (1936). But due to the economic and social rollercoaster ride that surrounded the breakneck prosperity of The Roaring 20s and immediate hardship of The Great Depression, this era was also marked by extreme social and economic whiplash, a global financial upheaval which led to dramatic expansion and contraction of supply and demand for educated marketers.
Contemporary industries witnessed similar sharp downturns in demand for marketers during the Great Recession.
Yet similar to what happened for companies that reinvested in advertising and the postwar consumer economy that surrounded the Depression, contemporary companies that reinvested advertising budgets in new marketing models like social media, programmatic advertising, and research and development were generally able to emerge from the Recession successfully. Think: AirBnB, Uber, and Alibaba. Earlier brand revolutionaries like Procter & Gamble, Chevrolet, and Camel cigarettes were likewise inspired in the face of Depression-era adversity to continue advertising and innovating, a move that proved a boon to business after WWII, especially as those booming years ushered us into the third era of modern marketing education: “A Paradigm Shift.”
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3. A Paradigm Shift (1950-1980)
High times would issue forth an era of global economic prosperity, a time when the fundamental educational models for teaching marketing changed almost beyond recognition. During this period of high supply and high demand, two distinct schools of thought emerged within the marketing discipline: one that viewed marketing as a science, the other that viewed marketing as management. These two schools of thought blended theoretical and and practical approaches to marketing education, and together they achieved innovation across disciplines—not only within the academy, but also across industries.
But the training process for earning an education in marketing became more challenging.
And as tends to happen during periods of accelerated progress across an industry, the knowledge base required to attain an education becomes more expansive. And as that knowledge base expanded for marketers learning the trade, so did the depth and breadth of available information about the field. With the advent of the Internet, rapid expansion of available information has led us into our most recent era, one for which the changes of the previous era have intensified to such a degree that “a paradigm shift” might be said to occur every year.
4. The Shift Intensifies (1980-present)
Our current era is marked by market and information saturation. Most of us already know this from our experience as users and consumers rather than marketers: there are opportunities for brand messaging to reach us at almost every waking moment of our lives, from the time we slide off our smartphone alarm clocks in the morning, to the hours we spend online at work, to the time we arrive home and see an unknown number flashing across our phones. All this opportunity for messaging means that the knowledge infrastructure necessary to teach marketers how to reach their audiences has expanded rapidly to accommodate the spread of new ideas and new information through thousands of new media channels. Translation: the marketing universe is expanding, and it’s getting tough for education to keep up. As an industry, marketing has reached a point where it is practically necessary to attain some level of higher education.
That degree of higher education—whether it be a single course, a certification, or a literal advanced degree—has not only become essential to landing a job. It has become essential to building a unique set of skills that can differentiate our message, help it cut through the noise, and most importantly, make an impact on the widening multimedia landscape we inhabit today.
Informal Learning Opportunities Abound As Digital Media Consumption and Digital Ad Spending Likely to Grow
Today, “higher” education doesn’t have to mean a piece of paper you hang on your wall. That’s why it’s important to ask the question “Do I need a marketing degree?” If you do, then there are options galore, all the way from bachelors degrees, to masters degrees, to MBAs with concentrations in marketing.
There are several good reasons that these topics fall through the cracks. Many of these skillsets require hands-on experience rather than cold, calculated study, something that can be difficult for universities to offer from a top-down perspective. It’s also difficult for marketing departments, which many times work in conjunction with communications departments, to fit every facet of their widening fields into a 2- or even 4-year curriculum. And finally, informal education options (e.g., MOOCs, bootcamps, and corporate or small business training programs) have emerged over the last five years to fill the cracks left by formal marketing education programs. Alternative options like these have made a real impact on the online learning landscape, especially for fields like marketing and media, whose focus is largely shifting to predominantly online delivery methods: the same digital methods with which their courses are delivered.
Because of this shift toward digital, informal learning opportunities for online marketing have abounded, supplementing formal degree programs in an effort to meet consumers’ increased demand for digital consumption.
Ad spending has generally followed this demand for increased digital consumption.
Pew Research Center found in 2016 that digital advertising continues to grow and account for a larger proportion of all ad spending.
Source: eMarketer U.S. Ad Spending Estimates.
“State of the News Media 2016”
Following this trend of sustained linear growth for digital ad spending over a six-year period, the amount spent on digital advertising in 2015 accounted for approximately one-third (32.6%) of total ad spending in the United States. That’s up from 28% of annual spending for fiscal year 2014, which was up from 25% in 2013, which was up from 22% in 2012, which was up from 20% in 2011, and is approaching an average spending increase of +$7 billion per year on digital advertising alone.
While digital ad spending numbers aren’t out yet for 2016, sustained linear growth suggests that we should expect both digital media consumption and ad spending to rise for 2017.
Considered along with the growth and variety of informal learning opportunities that educate the marketers who impact these numbers on a day-to-day basis, it’s no surprise that the online marketing education industry is expanding.
Online Marketing Education Industry Expands as Credentials, Certificates, MBAs, MAs, MSs, and Bachelor Degree Programs Grow
Noting a relative spike in the number of MBA programs around the globe, William Wilkie, the Nathe Professor of Marketing at Notre Dame, presented at the Academy of Marketing Science that there had been a “huge jump” in MBA programs worldwide over a period of 15 years. According to Wilkie’s presentation, this jump included a doubling of MBA degree programs in the U.S., an increase of 50 such degree programs in Russia, as well as 60 in China, and greater than 100 in central and eastern Europe.
Over one-third of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)’s 521 accredited business schools report fully online business degrees for the year 2016.
Data for the total number of online business degree programs accredited by the international Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) support Wilkie’s observation of general growth. Over the five-year period between 2011 and 2016, the total number of online marketing programs in the United States grew 47 percent, from 130 online degree programs in 2011-2012, to 192 online degree programs in 2015-2016. Similarly, the number of online Undergraduate, Masters-Specialist, and Masters-Generalist (MBA) programs grew measurably, by 80 percent, 67 percent, and 44 percent, respectively. Accredited Undergraduate programs grew the most, having increased by 37 programs (nearly double) and at a rate of greater than 7 new accredited programs per year between 2011 and 2016.
Per the MOOC database Class Central, the number of informal online learning opportunities has also expanded substantially over the past two years, from 49 courses in the cross-listed subjects of “Marketing & Finance” in July 2014, to 52 courses in the subject of “Marketing” alone in July 2015, to 93 courses in the subject of “Marketing” alone in November 2016, to 137 courses in the subject of “Marketing” alone that are available today. While these numbers fluctuate regularly as Class Central updates its database daily to account for new open courses and old courses that have closed, these numbers give some representative snapshots that illustrate how quickly informal online marketing education opportunities have expanded in recent years, from getting lumped in with another subject (i.e., Finance) to coming into their own as a subject with courses, credentials, and certifications offered by institutions as diverse as George Mason University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business.
For 2017, expect more of the same expansion for both formal and informal education opportunities, except with a greater sense of competition industry-wide.
As Old School Marketers Learn New School Marketing Skills, Expect Contentious Marketing to Become More Popular
To return to the end of the beginning, we now inhabit a marketing landscape where it has become difficult to avoid the noise of brand messaging. The volume of this noise reached a peak in 2016, at the end of which much of the world emerged from one of the most contentious years in political (and marketing) history. Controversies surrounding the presidential election in the United States and the “Brexit” referendum in the United Kingdom have promised marked effects on industries large and small. But the effect these events have had on marketing education is materializing more quickly, and an explanation of that effect begins with an answer to the following question about contemporary leadership: what happens when contentious leaders learn how to spread their message online?
The short answer is contentious marketing.
The most simple example of contentious marketing in action is Donald Trump. Although a successful businessman, Donald Trump did not become what we might call a “well-rounded,” modern, or even content marketer until he became a presidential candidate. Prior to his candidacy, Trump’s marketing strategy consisted essentially of a large-scale brand awareness campaign, during which he worked to expand his business empire by purchasing several large pieces of real estate on which to situate his name. What this amounted to was a very expensive, old school, billboard and TV advertising campaign. While using The Apprentice and his luxury brand to promote his name, he made little use of the news media in the way he did during his campaign. And aside from some political grandstanding via Twitter in 2009 when he created his account, he didn’t make much use of social media either.
But in 2015, he began using Twitter and TV news to take what little political grandstanding he did perform to several new levels. Selecting media that he could dominate, our newly minted modern marketer was able to reach unprecendentedly various and sundry audiences for his name and brand, as well as reach unparalelled levels of engagement from every level of global society, supporters and dissenters alike. Such an audience and its engagment levels allowed Trump to achieve more TV airtime and more Twitter attention than any of his competitors (or any other story in 2016). His name and brand dominated the conversation so thoroughly, that even bad news could become good news, or to turn an old phrase, any press could become good press.
Barring a discussion of what the success of these tactics might imply about current global political climates (and all advice that would end with “start trolling politicians via Twitter”), these winning tactics teach us a good many things about the current winds of online marketing. They teach us that saying something contentious gets attention, and that making a bold statement—whether it be a reference to current affairs, pop culture, or fellow competitors—while also taking a big risk, can result in a huge reward, even if a brand name is attached to the perceived winner.
Now, we’ve known since 2013 that much of the web’s most popular content (i.e., viral content) is also the web’s most controversial content. Think: the blue dress vs. gold dress controversy. But according to this study, put out by the Wharton School of Business, controversy only tends to increase likelihood of discussion “at low levels,” while it tends to have the opposite effect at moderate-to-high levels. Translation: that advice about never bringing up politics or religion at the dinner table also applies to content marketing.
Where it might not apply is in the realm of contentious marketing, or what appears to be an emergent form of marketing that hinges on the publication of content that is attached to a strong opinion. Indeed, a more recent study published near the end of 2016 found that strong opinion pieces are earning some of the largest numbers of links and shares among all forms of published content, a finding that applied to political posts and strong opinion pieces in B2B industries equally.
These changes likely signal our most recent paradigm shift—a change in tide that has arrived amid an expanding wake of new opportunities for earning a marketing education either online and worldwide—and a new direction for the state of marketing education to take in 2017.